I’m going to tell you straight out that this post may seem like some purely shameless touting for the Seabourn line. Maybe so, but I’m not getting a darned thing out of it except the pleasure of telling you all “how it is” in our particular experience, not to mention the joy of reliving the fun we had. And they deserve the good press.
We are not really experienced cruisers, not compared to some of the people we have met on our various cruises. We’ve been on four so far, on three different cruise lines. Some of the folks we met on this cruise had been on so many cruises they really couldn’t remember how many, nor could they list the different lines they had experienced. But, for the most part, to a person they said that Seabourn was the best, and that once they had cruised on this line they really weren’t that interested in moving to another one. That pretty much sums up Jim’s and my attitude.
So, what makes this “high end” line the best? It certainly isn’t the size of the ships, which in the cruise industry rank as almost minute. I have posted a similar shot previously, but this indicates the relative size of the Seabourn “Spirit” to the other cruise liners. In the following picture, taken at the harbor in Fuchal, Madeira, we are sandwiched between the Thomson “Dream” and the Aida “Sol”.
If you recall the shot at the end of my previous post, when you are walking up to the Spirit, she doesn’t look all that small. But when you compare her to the giant “super liners” that a lot of the cruise lines are putting on the water, she looks rather unimpressive. On the other hand, her small size makes it possible for her to go into ports that the superships can’t even get close to. So you get to go off the beaten path a little ways, and you are getting to experience ports in a more leisurely manner, rather than the more normal frantic and crowded port experience. Trust me, if you’ve ever gotten off a cruise ship in the Bahamas when there are seven other giant floating hotels in port, you will know what I mean by frantic and crowded.
So, on a ship that small, you can imagine that there are a lot of things that are missing. For example, there is no roller skating rink, no ice skating, no climbing wall. There are also no announcements on the PA system every ten minutes exhorting you to take part in the latest contest, bingo, dance competition, casino come on, blah blah blah. The only time you hear the PA on the Seabourn ship is when the captain makes his noon announcement of position. (Well, you hear it when the ship’s company is conducting training drills too. I can live with that, literally.) There are no long strings of shops flacking overpriced souvenirs and cruise clothing, only one tiny boutique.
There are no inside cabins. When they say “all suite”, they mean it. Our cabin was on the lowest deck that carried passengers, the cheapest accommodations available. This is our cabin and bathroom.
The table in front of the couch very cleverly raises up to become a dining table if you decide to dine in your cabin. That bowl of fresh fruit you see peeking out on the right stayed stocked all through the cruise. The refrigerator below it remained stocked with beer, wine and the Schweppes Bitter Lemon soda (no longer available in North America) Jim requested the cruise line acquire from Europe for his enjoyment. Those bathroom surfaces you see that look like marble? Marble. The bathtub was a REAL bathtub in which you could have a delicious soak in water clear up to your neck.
In addition to the amenities I mention above, every night there were chocolates on the bed along with the next days activity schedule and menu. Frequently you would find a towel creature too. At various times we found a floppy eared dog, a hanging chimpanzee and a butterfly. There were little duckies once too, but I didn’t get their portrait.
There are also no hordes of screaming children, and almost no obnoxious drunken gaggles of loudmouths staggering around. There simply aren’t enough people aboard to form mobs, hordes or gaggles.
The Seabourn Spirit is designed to carry around 200 passengers in extreme comfort. Those passengers are served by a crew of about 200. Granted, a lot of them are behind the scenes making the sumptuous meals, running the laundry, and keeping the engines operating, as well as navigating and running the hotel. But still, you never had to hunt around for a waiter if you wanted a glass of champagne (or water).
The level of service provided is extremely high. And you feel like you are a real person to the people waiting on you. When you come aboard, the first thing they do is photograph you for your Cruise ID card, which is what you use to get on and off the ship when in port. Those photographs are reproduced and hung down in the crew space, where the staff studies your face and name. 24 hours after the ship gets underway, the crew is tested, and whoever gets the most names correct gets some sort of reward, I think extra time off in the next port or some such thing.
What this means is, when you walk about the ship you are greeted by name. The bar staff learns who you are and not only do they associate your name with your face, they start to know what drinks you like to order and how you like them made. The wait staff learn quickly who wants ice water, who wants sparkling water, who is going to drink lots of wine, who wants pepper on their salad, etc. etc.
So, here’s a picture of our particularly favorite bar aboard, the Sky Bar. I am having a French 75 coctail. The gentleman behind the bar is Roberto, a truly excellent bar tender.
This is an open air bar, so this is where we went when we wished to smoke cigars. There was quite a congenial group of cigar smokers aboard, and the Cuban cigars offered were quite tasty.
I made him get his own cigar that night. Usually I just took a few puffs of the one he was smoking.
Here is a view of the area around the Sky Bar taken from the bar itself.
They were setting up for the Barbecue Under the Stars dinner festival that evening.
As you can clearly see, there was no waiting for service, not really. And the lineup of salads was spectacular.
After dinner was over, there was no waiting for the dancing to start either. They cleared that whole set-up (leaving the dessert table, of course) away in less than 30 seconds. I was trying to take pictures of the process, and it happened so fast that my camera could not re-warm the flash in time to get more than a couple of shots of the impressive operation. Seriously.
And the dancing began immediately.
There was a Galley Raid buffet luncheon one day. This allows the guests to see where all their food comes from, and provides the restaurant crew an opportunity to shine.
This is a picture of the eggs benedict one morning. I had already eaten half my portion before I thought to get a shot of those eggs. I have not done anything to the color of this, they really were that color. Very tasty too. Oh yes, the english muffins were made fresh daily aboard ship.
The food was always presented beautifully. I rarely had my camera with me at meals, but one time the mango coulis was so beautiful I ran up to our cabin to get it. I’d already taken a bite…
If you need to be entertained all the time, Seabourn is not for you. They do offer a daily “enrichment lecture,” presented by an interesting expert. Their experts range from retired ambassadors and authors to experts in marine salvage. There are fun games. Every day there is team trivia in the Observation Lounge. The winners get fabulous leather bookmarks… A competition (for bragging rights only) is held during the cruise to build a boat out of materials you can find on board. The one that floats in the pool longest is the winner.
There is a wonderful library aboard, furnished with hundreds of rather grand books as well as hundreds of DVDs. Oh, did I mention everyone had a DVD player and HDTV in their suite? If you wanted to hole up and watch movies, you could call room service for fresh popcorn and it would be there in minutes.
The boutique held a fashion show where cruisers were invited to participate and model jewelry that was available for sale aboard ship. I volunteered, and got to model the $24,000 pearls…
That was a lot of fun, and I got a new hair-do for free out of the deal.
Here we are all gussied up for one of the formal nights.
You didn’t have to have a tuxedo to go to dinner. But he looks so good in it!
The sea provides its own ongoing entertainment. There were passing container ships, a huge school of porpoises passed us one day, the occasional whale sighting. And of course, sunsets. (I”m sure there were sunrises too, but we were rarely awake for them, since we usually danced until about 1 a.m.)
Yes, it is high end. Yes the tickets are more expensive than Carnival. But they are all-inclusive tickets. That means all your beverages, including very nice wines at dinner and all the good liquor you care to consume. It also means all the tips. This policy makes it so that all passengers are equally important to the servers, no one can throw around $50 bills and get better service.
And at the end of the cruise, there is no huge bar bill and tip charge to pay.
We’ll be back, and we can hardly wait. Seabourn is the best in our book.